Fact of the Day #105

It’s mentioned a few times early on in the series that a true Philosopher’s Stone would never break or run out, hence why Ed thought Cornello’s Stone was fake. Dr. Marcoh confirms that all Stones created using his method, including the ones used during the Ishvalan War, are imperfect prototypes and not true Philosopher’s Stones.

That’s right, kids… After all Ed and Al’s work to crack the code, every single Philosopher’s Stone shown in the series, including Father and Hohenheim, is a fake.


(Source: Chapters 2 and 8; Also, thanks to @froborr for pointing this out at a convention panel.)

An Introduction to Correspondences, Associations, and Symbolism in Witchcraft

I’m happy to present another article designed for those beginning their journey into witchcraft and magick. This one is particularly heavy on theory rather than practice, but I do feel that a firm understanding of the philosophies that underlie magick makes for a more robust and effective practice.

In a few previous articles for beginner witches, I discussed using symbols, such as the planetary glyphs, in visualization and sketched form. This is quite practical, but prior to undertaking this sort of work, it’s important to have an understanding of the role symbols (of all kinds) play in magick and witchcraft. Thus, I’ll be discussing that here! Enjoy, and I hope you find it informative and entertaining!

What are symbols, really?

Symbols, as most of us know, are things that stand in for something else in a certain context and for a certain purpose. The letter A in the Latin alphabet is symbolic of the sound made by that letter, and computers are full of symbols designating different programs and processes. When most people think of a symbol, even in an occult context, though, they tend to picture a line drawing or sigil representing a spirit, planet, or other concept. These are indeed examples of symbols, but the concept goes much deeper. Just as a sigil is symbolic of something, so can be a color, sound, general shape, or physical object.

Most beginner witches already have inklings of this - you may know, for example, that a chalice or cup symbolizes the element of water as a whole in some contexts. Realize, though, that almost everything used in witchcraft, for the most part, has some sort of value as a symbol, and stands for something else. This includes ingredients such as herbs and candles, the wand, dagger, and other tools, as well as more intangible things such as colors or sounds. Indeed, almost anything and everything can act as a magical symbol in the hands of an astute witch, and any symbol can be used in spellcasting or magick depending on the purpose.

You see, the majority of magick as it is practiced today (and particularly most witchery) involves the use of a notion commonly called sympathetic magick. Sympathetic magick takes the very concept of symbols and how they work to its utter conclusion. In any spell or magickal operation, the witch typically seeks to exert influence over something that would otherwise be beyond his or her control. Though other methods exist, the most common way of doing this is via sympathetic magick and the use of symbols to stand in for that which the witch wishes to influence. The witch chooses a symbol to represent the target of the spell, and performs actions upon it (which are themselves symbols), often using secondary symbolic ingredients as well.

Suppose a friend becomes sad and despondent, and you would like to aid in cheering him up using witchcraft. You might visit the friend and collect an article of their discarded clothing, something not to be missed but which he’s worn or kept around for quite some time, like a small sock or piece of an old t-shirt. This bit of fabric acts a symbol for your friend’s entire existence, owing to the fact that it originated with him, was heavily used by him, and was in physical proximity with them. This is enough to forge a powerful connection in your own mind between the friend’s material (often called a taglock, see this article) and the friend himself.

This connection, though beginning and existing most strongly in the witch’s mind, allows the witch to perform symbolic actions upon the taglock (an article of clothing, in this case), and observe what are often quite tangible changes in the spell’s target (the friend) as a result. Each spell is actually an intricate, layered web of symbols acting upon one another. In one type of healing spell, the witch might sew the friend’s t-shirt into the shape of a poppet or human-shaped doll, perhaps even adding additional decorations and materials to make it resemble the friend more closely. This is a second layer of symbolism added to the first, and enhances the connection between the taglock (now a poppet) and the person it symbolizes.

A third layer of symbolism is added by the witch when he or she acts upon the poppet representing the friend. As the goal is to bring joy and cheer, the witch might fill the poppet with herbs, gemstones, and other ingredients associated with happiness. In the image below, you can see an example of such a spell. In this one, all the ingredients were chosen for their traditional Solar association. The Sun, most people would agree, is a cheerful creature indeed, and thus herbs and stones with Solar associations are particularly useful for inspiring happiness in the spell’s target.

The “Why” of Symbolism

Almost any book on witchcraft (of any sort) will tell you this, though. Most will also give lists of symbolic associations (often called correspondences) between concepts. This can range from a simple list of magical purposes (love, luck, prosperity, etc.) with ingredients prescribed for each to a complex series of tables detailing a web of connections between celestial, earthly, biological, and mineral entities. Below are some images I’ve made highlighting popular correspondences within the various traditions I use, mostly arising from alchemical and ceremonial traditions I’ve studied. The first describes mineral correspondences based on planetary principles. This is followed by information about the elements, and the third is purely describing the planets themselves and what they govern.

Various authors give slightly differing accounts of how correspondences actually “work” beyond “this herb is associated with this purpose,” though. They don’t always (or often, even) explain where the association originates, nor do they mention that numerous traditions for correspondence exist and are often at odds. This doesn’t mean a beginning witch won’t get good results from picking herbs out of a chart in a random book with little extra information, but it will surely be more difficult than had they first learned the rationale between the correspondences in question, as well as been given space to examine the many interrelated systems of correspondences that exist today, choosing one, or perhaps developing a personal system of his or her own.

The above image encapsulates a certain important aspect of my own philosophy regarding witchcraft, and why I wish authors used different methods to write about it and teach it. The “what” and “how” of witchcraft practice is definitely important, but must always, in my mind, take a backseat to “why.” While someone might manage to follow a spell from a book with no awareness of the symbolism involved and get proper results due to the strength of their intent alone, they will likely be ten times more effective once they’ve developed the mental connections to understand why each aspect of said spell is what it is, what each ingredient or tool signifies, and, in essence, the whole spell’s mechanism of action.

A spell will undoubtedly be most powerful if the witch who casts it is aware of why and how it is supposed to work. This philosophical premise, of course, goes deeper than mere spellcasting, and ideally a witch ought be purposeful in all areas of his or her life, and never act without knowing why. As the image hints, though, often the answer to the question of why might just be the witch’s intuition, and that’s perfectly valid, though either way, one should be aware of it. It’s impossible to name or point to every single factor that plays a role in our decision-making at any point in time, but beginning the process of sorting out what causes us to act in a certain way in each situation is certainly a positive step towards self-actualization and a full understanding of magick.

How Symbols Work

Most books, though, rarely go into detail about why or how symbolism is important or even how it works. If they do, they tend to babble about “energies” and (worse) reference unsubstantiated theories of quantum mechanics as a way of legitimizing the concept. I find this distasteful, as it’s wholly inaccurate in terms of science, and doesn’t do justice to magick, either. It is far less disingenuous, and far more accurate, to admit that science has yet to explain most occult experiences, and that no appeals to avant garde quantum flapdoodle will change this. Thus, leaving excessive, pointless, and ill-defined science terminology (such as the ubiquitous “energy” or “vibrations” references) out of our discussions of the “how” and “why” of magick is advantageous.

This is not to say that a power or force (or energy in the colloquial sense) doesn’t exist behind the practice of magick, but as yet, it remains undefined scientifically, though we, as witches and magicians can conjecture about its nature based on our own experiences. From both my own practice and reading accounts of others, I can say unequivocally that symbolism and forging connections between concepts within one’s own mind and in the world at large is central to manipulating this force.

This is a lifelong process of both study and self-examination. I’m well-versed in what the traditional associations have been in a European context for various materials (herbs, gemstones, metals, etc.), and always strive to understand where the connection came from in a cultural context. This helps to solidify it in my mind. I also exercise my intuition in forging personal correspondences based on my own life experiences. Together, this all allows me to use the substance in question as a sort of conduit towards manipulating the higher forces with which my mind associates it.

Those favoring a more woo-ish hypothesis might posit that it’s more about understanding pre-existing connections. They might argue that certain herbs inherently possess certain qualities, like an association with healing or love, and none of this is the least bit subjective. This essentialist approach never sat well with me. While most Western witches would agree on many correspondences, it is important to realize that other traditions exist and contain within them highly effective correspondences, as well.

Take tobacco. A very commonly used (ahem) herb worldwide, in the Western Magical Tradition, it tends to have very Martial, warlike associations, and is often used in cursing. Tobacco is, however, native to the Americas, and long before Europeans gained access to it and developed that way of categorizing it, the plant had very different connotations for Amerindian peoples. Which is correct? Both function within their own tradition. Were it the case that materials and symbols all always had the same meaning regardless of who used them, this wouldn’t be possible.

Let’s examine some of the traditional “whys” of common witchcraft correspondences and symbolism. The spell for cheering up a friend that appears above includes the use of the herb known as St. John’s wort. This particular plant is often referred to as Solar, as noted above, because it has properties that reminded many witches and herbalists throughout history of the Sun.

Now, in magick, the Sun itself is a symbol as well as a celestial body, and is often associated with self-actualization and awareness, health, and happiness, which makes sense given how central the Sun is to life on Earth. St John’s wort produces brilliant yellow flowers which call to mind the Sun’s glorious rays. This plant also naturally produces chemicals shown to help alleviate depression and balance the emotions in some individuals, thus it has an association with health and wellbeing, just like the Sun - another reason it is considered Solar.

All these properties make St. John’s wort a good choice for a solar spell within this particular tradition, namely that of Western astrologically-based alchemy and herbal magick. Because I’ve been studying the ins and outs of this system for quite some time, a spell like the one with St. John’s wort above works well for me, as all those things readily get filed into the notion of “Solar” within my mind. Other traditions and cultures may have other associations for it, and witches operating within them will do well to learn them.

Personal Correspondences?

What about personal associations, though? Most of my experiences with St. John’s wort have reinforced it being Solar, but this won’t be true for everyone. What about people who consumed it and got sick, or those who just have a negative association for yellow flowers, for whatever reason? Those experiences, or even any intuitions you might have about a particular thing, should not be ignored! Think about it: even if every book in the world says that (for example) a particular gemstone is associated with love, if you yourself have personal reasons to associate it with something more negative, you won’t be able to use it effectively without taking that into account.

Sometimes, despite being a part of a particular culture or tradition, your own correspondences for something might differ quite a bit from the “standard”, and in that case, it’s almost always advantageous to go with your personal associations rather than what everyone is telling you. There’s much debate as to whether personal correspondences for one person are as powerful as those shared by many, and compelling arguments can be made for both sides. I suggest experimenting as much as possible to discover what works best for you.

Of course, there are plenty of things that can be used in magick which have no traditional association, at all! This is a given, because I firmly believe that anything can be used in magick, yet not everything is going to have a neat little entry in Crowley’s 777 or a related text. This is another reason personal associations are so important. If you’re in a situation where you feel the need to use more non-traditional elements in your spellwork, sorting out what they mean to you in particular is quite important.

I’ve used, for example, Red Bull drinks in my workings, and many other modern creations not likely to be found in ancient alchemical tomes or even modern occult paperbacks. The trick to doing this is to examine your own relationship to the substance or symbol from all angles. Ask yourself what thoughts it brings to mind, what feelings it inspires, how it relates to your memories, etc. Though most of this will be personal, also consider what the surrounding culture is telling you about the thing in question, and you’ll be on your way to developing your own correspondences.

This has been another article for beginner witches, and I hope you found it useful or entertaining! Though most of what I’ve written here revolves around theory rather than practice, I believe a good grasp of what a symbol is and how symbolism works is integral to effective magickal praxis. I’ve got plans for further articles in this series and will, in a few days, be posting some exercises related to this topic and advice for the process of developing personal correspondences and connecting with common traditional associations. Expect, also, an article on working with spirits to be forthcoming, though that won’t really fit within my beginner series, I’d say. I hope you enjoy my work, and if you have any questions or a topic you would like me to address, don’t hesitate to contact me!

A Dead Djinn in Cairo
Egypt, 1912. In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divi…

The story is now live on Tor.com!

“ Egypt, 1912. In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine. What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and a plot that could unravel time itself. “


“Gnosis is universal. You will see others asleep try and individualize gnosis, woe to those who try and separate themselves from the universality of the effects created by that which is gnosis! Be ye not fooled. Karmic law dictates there is cause and effect.
The Involution and evolution is the shiva and the shakti. We are all made of the same structure, spine, nervous system, reproductive organs, and creative energy; this being true would also prove the fact that going into evolution or Involution would produce the same effects on all of every man. If our anatomy is identical, which assuredly so, it is identical to all of everyone; the metaphysics and quantum physics would effect all of man in an identical fashion on all levels, whether it be atomically, cellularly, or psychologically.”

- The Anonymous Spiritualist


Phase 1/3 for this crystallized fish skeleton is done! This is a little sneak peek at a piece I’ll have for a group show curated by @jawcooper at @bakerhesseldenz
This epic show will feature the artistic talent of @jawcooper herself, @marcomazzoniart and @wes_burt this October! More info (and sneak peeks) to come!!!
#tylerthrasher #crystallized #fish #skeleton #sneakpeek #alchemy #chemistry #tulsa

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Illustrations from José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal’s Handbook of Sacred Anatomy (José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal, 2012).

(via Liturgie Apocryphe: José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal)

Creativity embodied in Alchemical Processes encoded by the forms of Zodiacal Signs.

The alchemical magnum opus was sometimes expressed as a series of chemical operations. In cases where these numbered twelve, each could be assigned one of the Zodiac signs as a form of cryptography. The following example can be found in Pernety’s 1758 “Mytho-Hermetic Dictionary”:

Calcination (Aries)
Congelation (Taurus)
Fixation (Gemini)
Dissolution (Cancer)
Digestion (Leo)
Distillation (Virgo)
Sublimation (Libra)
Separation (Scorpio)
Incineration (Sagittarius)
Fermentation (Capricorn)
Multiplication (Aquarius)
Projection (Pisces)

Elixir Vitae.

The Elixir of Life, also known as Elixir of Immortality and sometimes equated with the Philosopher’s Stone, is a mythical potion that, when drunk from a certain cup at a certain time, supposedly grants the drinker Eternal Life and/or Eternal Youth. This elixir was also said to be able to create Life. Related to the myths of Thoth and Hermes Trismegistus, both of whom in various tales are said to have drunk “the white drops” (liquid gold) and thus achieved Immortality, it is mentioned in one of the Nag Hammadi texts. Alchemists in various ages and cultures sought the means of formulating the Elixir.


Magical Fluid Condensers

I have always been fascinated with the concept of magical fluid condensers, but the origins of these mystical brews elude me. There are texts that make reference to these brews joining European magical traditions from Alchemy, but I cannot speak to the validity of these claims. Condensers are, in short, substances used to store etheric energy for later use by the Witch or Magician.

There are three types of condensers, being either a solid condenser, liquid condenser, or a gaseous condenser. Since this is Potions Lab, we will focus on the liquid condensers, its methods of preparation, and the various uses thereof.

 Specific condensers may be created based on magical goal that is sought (love, wealth, protection, banishing, etc.), however, this can be a very tedious and time consuming process. Instead, the Universal Fluid Condenser may be created. This Universal Condenser combines ingredients that correspond to each of the four elements, creating a perfect balance between all elements, making it suitable for all magical workings. Once created, the brew may be used to anoint power centers of the body before working magic, used to anoint amulets or talismans, consecrate and empower magical tools, or added to a ritual bath. It’s an extremely versatile brew with a countless number of uses. The process of creating such a brew is extensive, but well worth the effort.

There are several methods of preparing the condenser, one of which is outlined in detail below. I am curious if anyone else has experience in the creation and use of condensers. If so, I’d love to chat more.

To Create a Universal Fluid Condenser

1.      Set your cauldron on the fire and bring a liter of distilled water to a boil.

2.      Contribute two ounces of white sandalwood, powdered.

3.      Mix a ½ ounce of myrrh and a ½ ounce of orris root in a mortar and grind together. Add this mixture to the brew.

4.      Add a half ounce of jasmine flowers, dried.

5.      Add a small pinch of refined camphor.

6.      Add a ½ ounce of white poppy seeds.

7.      Contribute cinnamon, three sticks.

8.      Contribute tobacco, wither fresh or dried.

9.      Add an ounce of stinging nettle, dried.

10.  Add poplar leaves, a half ounce.

11.  Add a handful of sage leaves, fresh.

12.  Contribute an angelica root.

13.  Add amphibian’s skin, ideally a toad or a frog’s skin. (For the squeamish Witch, some other recipes tell us we can substitute ½ ounce of powdered toadstool for the amphibian’s skin.)

14.  If this condenser will be used for personal use, then contribute three drops of blood drawn from the left thumb.

Cover the cauldron and allow this brew to boil for 30 minutes. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool completely. Once cool, pour off the liquid into a second, clean pot and boil it slowly until it becomes as thick as possible without burning or becoming too dry. Then pour off the liquid into a measuring cup, taking note of the exact amount of brew that remains. Pour this off into a dark vial, then contribute an equal measure of alcohol (vodka or isopropyl). Seal the vial and shake vigorously for the space of100 heart beats, while imbuing the brew with energy. After which, the brew will be ready for use. (The alcohol will keep it from spoiling.)

Works cited:

Fitch, E. (1996). A grimoire of shadows: Witchcraft, paganism & magick. St. Paul, MN, U.S.A.: Llewellyn Publications.

Bardon, F. (2001). Initiation into hermetics. S.l.: Merkur Publishing.